In May, Microsoft launched a new YouTube app for Windows Phone that Google said ran afoul of YouTube's terms of service. Google demanded that Microsoft withdraw the app because it allowed users to download videos from YouTube, blocked ads and bypassed playback restrictions set by publishers.
Microsoft complied and reintroduced its app two days ago. But Google apparently considers the changes to be inadequate.
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In a blog post, David Howard, corporate VP and deputy counsel at Microsoft, criticizes Google's app ban as contrary to its avowed openness. "Google's objections to our app are not only inconsistent with Google's own commitment of openness, but also involve requirements for a Windows Phone app that it doesn't impose on its own platform or Apple's..." said Howard, noting that Google has repeatedly professed its commitment to openness in response to ongoing antitrust scrutiny.
Howard says Microsoft addressed Google's complaints about its app by disabling the ability to download videos, by enabling YouTube ads and by respecting video viewing limitations set by publishers. But the sticking point appears to be Microsoft's willingness to create its app using a Web technology layer rather than entirely native Windows Phone code. Howard says Google asked Microsoft to transition its app to HTML5, but engineers from both companies concluded this would be "technically difficult and time-consuming."
Perhaps that's true for Microsoft, given its particular browser technology. Other companies, however, have created YouTube apps that rely on an HTML5 layer to present video.
Microsoft, Howard says, remains committed to creating an HTML5 version with Google's cooperation eventually. But at the moment, the company believes a native Windows Phone version of its YouTube app offers the best user experience. "It seems to us that Google's reasons for blocking our app are manufactured so that we can't give our users the same experience Android and iPhone users are getting," Howard complains. "The roadblocks Google has set up are impossible to overcome, and they know it."
Google declined to comment.
This isn't the first time technology companies have used their technology as a barrier to competitors. Apple imposes a variety of limits on ways in which apps can behave and maintains private APIs for its use alone. Microsoft withheld technical documentation from Netscape that hindered interoperability and has its own set of rules for Windows Phone developers. Google prohibited automated export of advertising campaign data until regulators put an end to that. Platforms are all about tilting the playing field to favor the owner while explaining how much that benefits the user.
Google's insistence that Microsoft use HTML5 in its YouTube app may be unfair given that it built its own YouTube apps for iOS and Android using proprietary native code. But Google isn't asking Microsoft to do anything it's not asking other third-party developers to do.
Howard also complains that Google isn't providing Microsoft with the necessary information to serve ads properly. "We've asked Google to provide whatever information iPhone and Android get so that we can mirror the way ads are served on these platforms more precisely," Howard wrote. "So far at least, Google has refused to give this information to us."
But that's because Microsoft reverse-engineered YouTube's advertising interface. If Microsoft used the required HTML5 layer, it would be able to serve ads properly because that's the way YouTube serves ads to third-party apps.
At its annual developer conference in May, Google CEO Larry Page urged more focus on the positive. "Every story I read about Google is 'us versus some other company' or some stupid thing, and I just don't find that very interesting," he said. "We should be building great things that don't exist. Being negative isn't how we make progress."
But it is how companies can make press.